I originally wrote this post for my Coach’s Corner Column over at Speculative Chic. It’s a fantastic blog covering all things Speculative!
I’ve lost count of the number of writers who have said they loathe the editing process. I have a feeling a lot of this dislike for editing comes from our Inner Saboteur who continually ridicules us for not having perfect first drafts, convincing us that real writers don’t edit. Well, I hate to break it to you, but everywriter edits their work. They may not enjoy it, but they do it. It is a major part of the writing process. It takes more time than the drafting process.
Some people edit as they go — writing a scene or chapter and polishing it before they move on — some people prefer to scribble down everything in a fast draft and edit later. I prefer the second method, though I will sometimes go back and insert or edit parts of the manuscript as I go. Whichever way you write, you still need to edit. It will be a lot easier to do if you find a way to enjoy it.
I once read in a book on writing (I don’t remember which one, it was a long time ago), that said that no writer enjoys the editing process.
I love it.
There are times I enjoy it more than the first draft/creative exploration process of getting the words down on the page for the first time. And I know that I’m not the only one who enjoys editing. I have met a handful of other writers who love it too.
I want to share my thought process for drafting and editing, and the differences between the two. Keep in mind, this isn’t the only way to enjoy editing, but I want it to inspire you to find your own way to enjoy it.
The first draft: This is can include the outline, but essentially it is when we first have that enthusiasm for a story and get it onto the page. For me, this is very much an exploratory stage, getting to know the characters, the world, the plot, etc. This is when I get to immerse myself most in the story. It is new. It is shiny. It is mine. No one gets to see it yet. This is also usually a complete disaster with plot holes (even with outlining), and the most awkward sentences ever written. This is where I get to liberally spend my wordage expense account. I often find that as enjoyable as this stage is, it takes a lot out of me emotionally and mentally, in a very good way. This is often when I get that writer’s high. I get giddy after about an hour, and said giddiness can last a good 24 hours after. This is when I feel most productive as a writer because there are tangible results. An extra 1,000 or 2,000 words written.
Editing: I’m not talking specifically about fixing grammatical errors or typos here. I usually reserve that for the final polish. Editing for me often involves revising major chunks of the manuscript, filling in those plot holes, etc. The reason I love editing so much is simply this: when I edit, that’s when I get to develop and see the growth in my craft of writing. This is where I get to play with the words, the sentences, to make each one say exactlywhat I want it to say in the most powerful way possible. Editing is where I get to really see the story take its true form, in all its beauty. This is where I get to take that rough piece of art and make it into a masterpiece. The structure, the core of it is all there. My creative self has done her job in coming up with a spectacular base. Now it is the true craftsman self that gets to truly bring it to life.
I usually start with filling in all the plot holes. I know there will be several because the story often changes slightly as it goes and things needed to be added (or deleted) for it to make sense. Then I get into the nitty-gritty of reading over each chapter, making it as strong as possible. Often that means breaking it down further, to each scene, paragraph, and sentence. If I get hung up on the wording, I fix it to make it easier to read. Is it conveying the emotion or action that I want? If not, then I fix it until it is. Does a reader know who is speaking in the dialogue? Does the dialogue make sense for the characters speaking? Do I need to add speech tags, or beats of action or description in the dialogue? Is there a sense of time or place? Once all of that is in place, then I add in the extra special details. Extra description here, a nice call-back to something earlier in the story or foreshadowing of a future event that may not be super necessary but adds a nice touch. Because by this point most of the manuscript has been re-written, I go through my spell-check and reread for typos. I’m terrible with grammar so if I happen to catch any errors I consider it a win. I depend on my critique group, beta readers, and my editor for that. So it is at this point that I send the manuscript to them.
Did I always enjoy editing? Hardly. I have a few manuscripts in my drawer that are very polished first drafts. I thought that’s what editing was. But as I learned more about writing, I was challenged to really dig and find the beauty in the story and bring it out. My first thought wasn’t that I didn’t like it (though I wasn’t crazy about it), but that I wasn’t capable of it. It didn’t take long for me to discover I did have the tools to make my writing even better. When I realized that, I embraced the process.
What do you dislike about editing? What do you love about it?